There are a couple of reasons why we really like ‘The Unbelievable Genesis of Volkswagen Performance’. The seriousness of this enthusiast’s effort and the accessible price (65 euros) are just two of them.
We were aware of ‘The Unbelievable Genesis of Volkswagen Performance’ for some time. That is because this effort by Belgian Volkswagen enthusiast Mike Walravens appeared for the first time at the end of 2022… in French. You could download the translated text in English in a separate document, but that’s all rather complicated in the end, wouldn’t you agree?
It would seem Walravens agreed, and he has done the sensible thing: print an English version. That is now here, and we warmly recommend it. You need to understand this book is mostly about the Belgian history of fast VWs. No words on Beetles racing in Nassau for instance, but this was never the author’s intention.
Walravens mainly focused on how the Beetle and the Volkswagen 1500S performed in Belgian events like the Spa 24 Hours or Spa-Sofia-Liège. As such, much of the book’s context is linked to Belgian VW importer D’Ieteren’s efforts on the racing and the rally scene. The first chapters tell a highly detailed story of how D’Ieteren campaigned the 1500S in the Spa 24 Hours, with Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon as one of the drivers. D’Ieteren’s ambitions were to win the coveted ‘Coupe du Roi’, awarded to the best performing team. The team that added up the most miles with three identical cars, got the cup. In 1964, the D’Ieteren effort fell 0.11 miles short.
Thanks to access to the D’Ieteren archives, the book impresses with rich period photography. In the second part, the author touches a subject he knows intimately: the Mach 1 Beetles D’Ieteren tried to commercialize. After a successful effort of the Swedish VW importer Scania Vabis with an Oettinger-tuned Beetle in the 1964 Spa-Sofia-Liège ‘Marathon de la Route’, D’Ieteren tried a stunt. With the Mach 1, the Belgians created a performance Beetle, based around an Oettinger kit that pushed output to 52 hp (from a stock 34 hp). The picture of the Scania Vabis and a Mach 1 side by side in front of the Oettinger office is just one particular piece of eye candy this book offers.
For the English edition, the author has brought an update, inserting new photography and the story of a newly discovered Mach 1, which was gathering dust in the massive Mahy collection. The third part of the book looks at early Volkswagen racing and rallying history in general, and – nicest of all – gives an inside look at ‘Oldspeed’ VW culture.
Perhaps this is why we like the book most of all: it gives an accessible view into a whole car culture that can seem a bit out of touch to other car guys. This book brings that passion to life, and will have you scrambling to the nearest marketplace website to scout for Beetles or 1500 Ss. Well, at least that’s what I did.
We warmly recommend ‘The Unbelievable Genesis of Volkswagen Performance’, especially to non-VW people. Its 255 pages are well worth the price of 65 euros. With the French version now out of print, it’s probably best not to wait too long. You can get it here.
Author: Mike Walravens
Publisher: European Bug-In Publishing
Price 65 euros